As part of NASSP’s Advocacy Conference last week, more than 350 school leaders descended on Capitol Hill to advocate for what their students and schools need to succeed.

Among them were three representatives from the Kansas Principals Association: Cara Ledy, its executive director; John Befort, principal of Washington Elementary School in Ellis; and Trevor Goertzen, principal of Spring Hill Middle School in Spring Hill. Representatives from NASSP and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) also joined them.

From Left, Trevor Goertzen, Cara Ledy, and John Befort visit Capitol Hil

Ledy, Befort, and Goertzen shared with members of Congress from Kansas their compelling stories about the needs of students and educators. While school needs can vary from state to state, these school leaders united with other principals from every part of the country to ask that Congress focus on the following legislative priorities: alleviating school staffing shortages and strengthening the principal pipeline; improving school mental health resources and ensuring student and staff safety; and allocating the necessary funding to support safe, healthy, and modern school facilities. (For a complete list of NASSP policy recommendations, see bit.ly/3pKU1lf).

“Our teacher pipeline is really critical,” Ledy said during a visit to Sen. Roger Marshall’s office. “We have a teacher shortage. Every school building I go into, and I cover the whole state … the principal is in the classroom because we don’t have enough teachers. They can’t find teachers.”

Goertzen added that he, too, usually pitches in every day in various roles at his school, even in the cafeteria. “I’m usually slinging pizzas at least once a week because there Is no one else to do it,” he said. “That’s really fun for me, to interact with the kids, but then I can’t focus on the tasks that only I am able to do.”

Ledy explained that Kansas currently has 63 principal vacancies, an exceedingly high number for a state with Kansas’ student population.

During the visit to Capitol Hill, Befort focused primarily on infrastructure issues. To Sen. Jerry Moran, he said, “You know that a lot of schools in my part of the state are old since you are from near there. I have a boiler, and our heating and air system is old and needs updating. We are trying to run a bond issue, but those don’t always pass. We won’t be able to have school in the winter without heat.”

Ledy and Goertzen also shared stories about the uptick in mental health issues. When their students took home devices owned by the school district during the pandemic, content monitoring software sent alerts to administrators when students searched topics related to self-harm. Goertzen said he received about two alerts each week warning that his middle school students were Googling the topic, while Ledy, the former principal of Wichita South High School, said she received between 10-12 student alerts each week. All three leaders attested to the fact that more mental health professionals are needed in schools.

“Quite a bit of my time goes into helping students, teachers, and families work through mental health issues,” Goertzen said. “I like that part of my job, but I am not trained in that like a mental health professional would be.”

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